A word to the wise – this contemporary visualisation of Mozart’s famous opera is unlike any version you are likely to have seen before. In fact it’s unlike anything you are likely to have seen before, period. The debut feature film from Kasper Holten (Director of Opera at London’s Royal Opera House), Don Giovanni (Juan, 2010) stars English baritone Christopher Maltman as the titular character with a one track mind, whose racy past eventually catches up with him in spectacular fashion. Juan (Maltman) is a part-time artist and full-time playboy, who makes it his sole aim in life to bed as many women as possible whilst flitting between Europe’s most beautiful cities.
Hiring his friend Leporello (Mikhail Petrenko) to tag along and record his conquests in a video diary, it is only a matter of time before some of his past lovers find out what is going on, which they do with tragic results. Though contemporary stagings of classic operas are nothing new, placing the said re-imaginings outside the confines of an opera house or theatre is not so common.
It’s this very air of freedom, along with the use of modern day, profanity-strewn English, which makes this 102 minute musical and sexual odyssey a startlingly fresh, though at times jarring, experience. The normal restraints imposed upon stage bound productions, through both scenery and often constricting costumes, clearly do not come into play here. Filmed on location in Budapest the varied settings, ranging from busy streets and railway stations to the cavernous interior of Juan’s warehouse studio where he paints extravagantly large canvasses of distressed female faces, allows both the cast and filmmakers a liberty normally unachievable.
The other freedom the players, and in particular Maltman, make good use of, is through the expletive ridden dialogue. Though the modern language melds seamlessly with Mozart’s music, the use of the ‘f’ word verges on the overwhelming due to its constant repetition. From history however, it seems likely Mozart himself was prone to the occasional colourful outburst, so perhaps the spicy speech is not so far off the mark after all.
Don Giovanni (Juan) may not be to the taste of Mozart purists. One imagines however, if the musical maestro himself were alive, he would most likely enjoy this ribald take on the misadventures of his singing lothario.